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Job posting for artistic director


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Any more thoughts about Whelan?

 

Whelan is not closely identified with Balanchine roles although of course she danced many with distinction. Understandably, she tends to talk more about the people who made ballets on her rather than the heritage side of the repertory. But Balanchine is the reason for this company. Whelan has little demonstrated affinity for the Balanchine repertoire, and given that there are still age-appropriate people around who were with the company while Balanchine and Robbins were still active, she’s not really that obvious a choice, particularly given her relative lack of experience in administration. I presume one of her chief advantages in the current environment is her gender, but Whelan’s public statements to date on the question of female choreographers, for example, haven’t exactly been progressive.

Robert Gottlieb weighs in:

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t would be hard to imagine a less distinguished performance than that of the City Ballet Board of Directors—first, never clarifying what led to Martins’ departure (there was an anonymous letter to the School whose contents have never been made public); then hiring a search firm to identify his successor. A search firm? How could outsiders to the dance community have the faintest clue about what it takes to be artistic director of a major ballet company, let alone a company so highly specific in its requirements? From the start, the search firm was a joke: There were never more than half a dozen people remotely qualified for the job, and give or take a few mavericks, just about everybody knowledgeable about the situation could have come up with that list in ten minutes. The Board simply shifted the responsibility to people unequipped to deal with it.......

 

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NYCB had/has far more problems than a dearth of female choreographers.

Given that the Board is a pro-Martins Board and that a prominent member was ready to take him back with open arms, it makes legal and optical sense for NYCB to outsource it to an outside team, which, hopefully, has done deep enough background checks that the organization won't torpedo itself by being slack.

I feel that his real complaint is that they didn't call in him and/or Kaiser, the usual suspects.  I'm not sure those two have done an exemplary job across the board with their recommendations.

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9 minutes ago, Helene said:

NYCB had/has far more problems than a dearth of female choreographers.

Given that the Board is a pro-Martins Board and that a prominent member was ready to take him back with open arms, it makes legal and optical sense for NYCB to outsource it to an outside team, which, hopefully, has done deep enough background checks that the organization won't torpedo itself by being slack.

I feel that his real complaint is that they didn't call in him and/or Kaiser, the usual suspects.  I'm not sure those two have done an exemplary job across the board with their recommendations.

Search firm, board of directors, or anyone else - given the job description, there are a limited number of people who are qualified. The board of directors could have saved themselves a lot of money. Instead of hiring a search firm they should be reading this site!

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7 hours ago, vipa said:

I recall Lopez being interviewed on Conversations on Dance. I'm paraphrasing but I believe she said she didn't have "vision" per se, but wanted to hire and develop good dancers, build an audience and grow the rep in ways that please and challenge audiences and dancers. She certainly seems devoted to the Balanchine rep, but has also shown an interest in new works (she was co-director of Wheeldon's company, Morphoses). Of course she might be happy in Miami, and not want the job, but I think she'd be great.

She has basically follow on Villella' steps. Mix programs...a couple of Balanchines, and one Taylor, Tarp, Ratmansky, Wheeldon, Peck et al. Not much has changed since she took over, and she has said so in pre performances talks. The one thing I noticed is that She drastically added many more Nutcracker performances, increasing the number every year, and adding Naples to Miami, Broward and West Palm Beach. It was a real marathon this year for the dancers. 

Edited by cubanmiamiboy
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I've been under the impression that arts organizations almost always hire search firms for such high-level positions. I imagine search firms do much more than simply identify candidates. They'd presumably provide support/guidance throughout the hiring process. And as Helene says, they'd be more of a neutral third party. Wasn't it the search firm that did the "listening tour" thing to find out what the dancers and others wanted in a leader?  You wouldn't want the board members doing that. 

Edited by fondoffouettes
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2 hours ago, Helene said:

Given that the Board is a pro-Martins Board and that a prominent member was ready to take him back with open arms, it makes legal and optical sense for NYCB to outsource it to an outside team, which, hopefully, has done deep enough background checks that the organization won't torpedo itself by being slack.

 

Professional search firms can and do provide services that smaller organizations without a fully-fledged HR department, a team of in-house lawyers, a travel department, or big administrative staffs might find useful. They don't just draw up a list of potential candidates and hand it to the Board so it can start making phone calls.

They can help the Board and the relevant staff personnel prepare a robust and accurate job description and identify the most important qualifications a candidate would ideally have. You might think that this would be obvious in the case of a ballet company like NYCB, but it's not. The organization has changed considerably since Balanchine's death and Martins' ascension, and so have best practices when it comes to the appropriate separation of duties between the AD and the ED. Martins might have taken on certain tasks out of expediency or personal preference that would better shunted off to the ED — or vice-versa. A search professional can help the Board and staff think through what the AD job could and should look like, rather than simply replicating what it was under the previous incumbent. Since it's unlikely that everyone will agree on what the AD's responsibilities should be, or what the most important qualifications are, the search firm can also help the relevant decision-makers get on the same page. (You know, it wouldn't surprise me in the least if a few Board members harbored the suspicion that Martins can only be replaced by a six foot three inch blond former dancer who speaks with an accent, danced for Balanchine, and once seemed to be a promising choreographer.)

A search firm can also impose some degree of objectivity when it comes to evaluating candidates. It can vet their resumés for accuracy, conduct discreet interviews with people who have worked with them or for them, or suss out their reputation in the community of donors, funders, and civic/governmental agencies. (Someone might be an absolute dream on paper but sheer hell to deal with.) And, as Helene pointed out, it can do the kind of background check that a Board might be ill-equipped to handle. It can also tactfully point out that the candidate everyone seems to want is not actually the one that is most suited to the job as described. (I can personally attest to just how valuable a  service this can be!)

Finally, a good search firm can relieve the organization of a ton of administrivia it either doesn't need to do itself or might not have the staff to handle efficiently: everything from the nuts and bolts of the application process, fielding inquiries, arranging interviews, to making travel arrangements, etc. etc. etc. 

ETA: The firm can also provide assistance negotiating things like salary, benefits, spouse / partner employment, the timing of the announcement, and what goes in it.

ETA 2: Remember the various communication debacles when Corella became Pennsylvania Ballet's AD? A good firm can help the Board and the staff plan how to rollout information about who's been chosen, when they'll assume the post, what happens next, as well as help them draw up ground rules for interviews, coach the new AD on what to say and how, etc.

Edited by Kathleen O'Connell
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Thanks so much for laying that all out so clearly, @Kathleen O'Connell. I found Gottlieb's criticism of the use of a search firm to be oddly narrow-minded, literal and out-of-touch, especially this bit:

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A search firm? How could outsiders to the dance community have the faintest clue about what it takes to be artistic director of a major ballet company...?

It's a mindset that breeds institutional stagnation of the sort NYCB does not need.

Edited by nanushka
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2 hours ago, nanushka said:

I found Gottlieb's criticism of the use of a search firm to be oddly narrow-minded, literal and out-of-touch, especially this bit:

"A search firm? How could outsiders to the dance community have the faintest clue about what it takes to be artistic director of a major ballet company...?"

It's a mindset that breeds institutional stagnation of the sort NYCB does not need.

In fairness to Gottlieb, the pool of candidates isn't a large one, nor is there likely to be a hidden gem of an AD tucked away in some ballet backwater that no one has thought of. Nor am I a fan of throwing handfuls of money at a bevvy of consultants for an answer your own team can give you in half the time with none of the folderol. That being said, there are more than a few viable choices, each with their strengths and weaknesses, and the Board needs a plan for choosing among them and negotiating the terms of employment. I don't have a lot of confidence that this particular board is up to the task.

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53 minutes ago, Kathleen O'Connell said:

In fairness to Gottlieb, the pool of candidates isn't a large one, nor is there likely to be a hidden gem of an AD tucked away in some ballet backwater that no one has thought of.

That made me laugh, thank you. ;)
As you stated, any candidate comes with his/her own individual strengths and weaknesses - no amount of waiting will turn up a perfect Cinderella for AD. NYCB needs to get past worrying about how much the new AD compares with the founding one and just get on with life. If the person chosen doesn't work out, then another AD will follow. Just like everywhere else.

Gottlieb's main contention seems to be that Ballet AD's cannot be chosen in the same way as a business CEO. But in 2019 that is only partly true: most AD's are having to take part in the fund raising aspects of the business, the marketing of the business, and usually have a lot to say about personnel and their issues. I think he's hoping for a true "artist" to lead the company - one that need not worry about all those messy business details - but I don't think that's a plausible approach in this day and age. Whoever is chosen for AD is  going to have to be a leader that fits in the present day - for better or worse.

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26 minutes ago, pherank said:

That made me laugh, thank you. 😉
As you stated, any candidate comes with his/her own individual strengths and weaknesses - no amount of waiting will turn up a perfect Cinderella for AD. NYCB needs to get past worrying about how much the new AD compares with the founding one and just get on with life. If the person chosen doesn't work out, then another AD will follow. Just like everywhere else.

Gottlieb's main contention seems to be that Ballet AD's cannot be chosen in the same way as a business CEO. But in 2019 that is only partly true: most AD's are having to take part in the fund raising aspects of the business, the marketing of the business, and usually have a lot to say about personnel and their issues. I think he's hoping for a true "artist" to lead the company - one that need not worry about all those messy business details - but I don't think that's a plausible approach in this day and age. Whoever is chosen for AD is  going to have to be a leader that fits in the present day - for better or worse.

It's interesting, in a Conversations on Dance interview, Lourdes Lopez said Gottlieb encouraged her to apply for the Miami City Ballet position, and that's what got that going.  It seems to me that the search for a NYCB AD could be a mix of a search firm, and old school people encouraging good candidates to apply. Maybe that's what is happening. AS far as "messy business details" how much of that is directly handled by the AD and how much is handled by a professional administrative staff? I just hope they announce soon. 

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I guess I have been relying on John Clifford's statement that the board had narrowed it down to two women, both of whom had been great ballerinas, but neither of whom had worked with Balanchine.  Of course Clifford might be wrong.  In which case Lourdes Lopez is an obvious possibility, with her vast experience in running dance organizations, Balanchine trust, and also having worked with Balanchine.  But if Clifford's info is correct, then ... what ballerina has that level of experience?  None that I know of.  Jenifer Ringer runs a school, Ashley Bouder has a pick up company that performs once a year or so, Wendy Whelan did Restless Creature.  Really no one has the AD role experience.  But did Peter Martins ever run a company before NYCB?  Not that I know of.  He learned on the job, watching Balanchine all those years.  Maybe they will pick a bright, ambitious, competent and engaging person who doesn't necessarily have the experience, but who can learn as she goes, as did Martins.

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Balanchine & Kirstein did not have much experience when they founded the precursors to NYCB, and while admittedly they struggled & foundered at first, they ultimately succeeded gloriously....   It was a different situation, but is it so obviously a mistake to take a risk on inexperienced talent if there is a "vision"?   Are there no choreographers out there to give the helm to?

Edited by Amy Reusch
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9 hours ago, nanran3 said:

I guess I have been relying on John Clifford's statement that the board had narrowed it down to two women, both of whom had been great ballerinas, but neither of whom had worked with Balanchine.  Of course Clifford might be wrong.

It would completely fit the personality Clifford has displayed for him to claim (and indeed truly believe) that he has much firmer inside info than he really does. Which is of course not to say he's necessarily wrong, but just...Clifford's saying it doesn't do much to make me believe it.

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9 hours ago, nanran3 said:

But did Peter Martins ever run a company before NYCB?  Not that I know of.  He learned on the job, watching Balanchine all those years.  Maybe they will pick a bright, ambitious, competent and engaging person who doesn't necessarily have the experience, but who can learn as she goes, as did Martins.

Both Kirstein and Robbins were alive and actively involved with both the company and the school when Martins assumed the role of "Co Ballet Master-in-Chief." Indeed, Robbins was the other Co Ballet Master-in-Chief and Kirstein was President of SAB. The current Board does not have that luxury. 

If prior experience leading an arts organization doesn't matter, why not just keep Jonathan Stafford and his team in place? A year on, this team does in fact have some experience and from the outside, at least, seem to be doing a fine job. 

By the way, I stumbled across this 1985 NYT article while I was confirming Kirstein's involvement with NYCB / SAB post-Balanchine:

Art and Money in a Ballet Conflcit

"The current conflict between Lincoln Kirstein's supporters and those who have recently challenged his authority in the School of American Ballet - which he and George Balanchine established before founding the New York City Ballet - has raised issues faced by arts groups throughout the nation.

The concerns involve fund-raising versus directorial independence and the influence of major donors or board members on policy. Also involved is the clash between a corporate mentality brought into arts organizations by recently formed boards and the unorthodox spirit that guided pioneering arts enterprises such as the Balanchine-Kirstein ventures during the last 50 years."

La plus ça change ...

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7 hours ago, Amy Reusch said:

Balanchine & Kirstein did not have much experience when they founded the precursors to NYCB, and while admittedly they struggled & foundered at first, they ultimately succeeded gloriously....   It was a different situation, but is it so obviously a mistake to take a risk on inexperienced talent if there is a "vision"?   Are there no choreographers out there to give the helm to?

True, but entrusting an established legacy company (one that now exists on a much larger scale and with a much bigger profile) to an untested leader seems a rather dicier proposition.

Granted, that also means that the company could likely withstand a misstep, if it were quickly corrected (though after the last year of upheaval, I can understand not wanting to take another risk). But if another MIllepied-type situation can be avoided, that would definitely be preferable.

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Unlike the scrappy companies that led up to its creation, NYCB is an institution, and there are a lot of administrative controls in place and advance planning for outside choreographers, designers, etc.,, plus, ironically, the same kind of audience expectations that Kirstein and Balanchine faced, ie, an audience that at least thinks it knows what it wants and what (NYCB) ballets are, and for a lot of that audience still, this is a, thankfully, very large group of established and legacy neoclassical works, which, now that the shoe is on the other foot, happen to be works by Balanchine and Robbins, plus works by a small number of neoclassical choreographers whose works have stuck.  These are two of the reasons Stafford and the rest of the interim team could keep going with a minimum of administrative chaos surrounding them, however many emotions were roiling in the place. 

While there is neither an entrenched bureaucracy nor an L'Opera-wide manager, like Lissner, to stymie whoever runs NYCB, everytime Balanchine was annoyed by that pressure of a large institution with external requirements, like unions, he threatened to go to Switzerland and start again with a small company, where he thought he could be hands-on and left unbothered by bureaucracy.  (I'm not sure whether he understood how much that was dependent on having a believer like Kirstein running interference.  Or maybe he had someone in mind.)

From my impressions of him in Reset, I think hiring someone an adult with attention span (ETA:  outside the studio) would go a long way to avoid a Millepied-like situation.  (Coming in as the purported savior/shaker-upper and insulting the current dancers and product alone has seemed to work well historically for a lot of AD's: look at Pennsylvania Ballet.)  But whoever takes over is going to manage a still-divided company, he or she is very likely to endure resistance from at least a faction of the dancers, even if he or she targets changes that address why there was a forced need for the change in the first place, and, also why he or she was chosen.

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42 minutes ago, Helene said:

From my impressions of him in Reset, I think hiring someone an adult attention span would go a long way to avoid a Millepied-like situation. 

Well, Jonathan Stafford certainly danced like a man of steady habits. 

(And I mean that mostly as a compliment. From the house at least, he looked like a terrific partner, but he also tended to look like the lead ballerina's Prime Minister rather than her Cavalier. ETA: But his droll Prince Ivan in The Firebird was *chef's kiss*. )

The institution NYCB mostly reminds me of is MoMA. It started out scrappy, and with a bold vision of the new, but now everyone shows up for the permanent collection.

Edited by Kathleen O'Connell
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I think a co-AD situation would work with Jonathon Stafford and Wendy Whalen. He's had the years experience and she is the much-loved former ballerina who could be the "face" of the company/fundraiser. I realize this is an extremely simplified definition and doesn't tick all the job description boxes.  But this would allow others in the interim team to get back to their original jobs full time and by keeping Stafford would recognize the effort they've put in over the last year. 

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24 minutes ago, Barbara said:

I think a co-AD situation would work with Jonathon Stafford and Wendy Whalen. 

Respectfully, I think that sounds like a nightmare for both parties. How would the AD's duties be divided between them? Who would have the authority to make decisions regarding repertory, casting, hiring, promotions, and commissions? I can easily imagine the formation of Team Stafford and Team Whelan, with plenty of behind-the-scenes lobbying for influence undermining company cohesiveness, regardless of how amicably the two co-ADs tried to work together. It's my understanding that the "Co BalletMaster-in-Chief" arrangement between Martins and Robbins worked because Robbins was mostly interested in making and maintaining his own ballets, not running the company. 

In addition, it would be perfectly reasonable for either of them to look at the Board and say, "Wait a minute, why don't you trust me to do this job on my own? If you don't have faith in me, why should the dancers, the donors, and the audience?" 

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2 hours ago, Kathleen O'Connell said:

The institution NYCB mostly reminds me of is MoMA. It started out scrappy, and with a bold vision of the new, but now everyone shows up for the permanent collection.

Actually from the beginning Alfred Barr had a strict program in place – like an Arthur Murray dance chart – for how the Modern would evolve, with key paintings in place. (You could say that the Cezanne bather was its Apollo, the savage Les Demoiselles D'Avignon its Serenade.) Currently, PS 1, housed in a former Swingline stapler factory, is MoMA's venue for its scrappier offerings.

It'd be interesting to see what kinds of Alfred Barr-like outline for City Ballet's past and future the prospective candidates for AD would imagine and construct – especially those of Damian Woetzel and Lourdes Lopez.

Steve Wolfe's painting of the Barr chart:

https://www.moma.org/collection/works/81386

Edited by Quiggin
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